Welcome to Saturday Book Review time! On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value. Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.
Let’s start with a confession: I didn’t read all of the books in seminary that I was supposed to read. But I did start catching up immediately after I graduated. One of those books was Liturgical Theology by Simon Chan. I was already a confirmed Anglican and in the discernment process for Holy Orders, and it was only then, in reading this book, that I began my deep love for the liturgy which has continued with me to this day. I was so impressed by this book (and still in a note-taking mode like a seminary student) that I actually made outline notes of each chapter of the book. So if you want to go into greater depth you can look at those notes here:
- Chapter 1: the Ontology of the Church
- Chapter 2: the Worship of the Church
- Chapter 3: the Shape of the Liturgy
- Chapter 4: the Liturgy as Ecclesial Practice
- Chapter 5: the Catechumenate
- Chapter 6: the Sunday Liturgy
- Chapter 7: Active Participation
As you can see there, the first four chapters lay the foundation for a liturgical theology, and the last three set out concrete practices by which that liturgical theology can be expressed. This is very helpful for those who are not familiar with liturgical worship, and need to see “why liturgy matters” before they can be bothered to learn about liturgy itself. And even if you are familiar with liturgical worship, sometimes it’s helpful to go back to examine the foundational purposes for this way of life we share.
It should be noted, too, that Simon Chan is not an Anglican. He’s not even from a liturgical tradition himself; he’s an Assemblies of God Pastor. This has the disadvantage that this book doesn’t really deal with particularly Anglican liturgical practices, but it does have the advantage of a common-ground approach to liturgical worship that highlights the similarities across several particular traditions. When he does give a walk-through of the Communion service, it is largely identical to the shape of the 1979 Prayer Book and the modern Roman Mass, not the Tridentine Mass or the classical prayer book tradition. This may be a let-down for the traditionalist reader, but more relatable to the modern-liturgy fan.
I’ve noticed that the website for an ACNA diocese actually has a review of this book, which you may find useful for reflection on the nature of the Church. There’s also a review of this book on the well-known The Gospel Coalition blog which makes a number of unfounded criticisms (such as that Simon Chan does away with sola scriptura and promulgates the doctrine of transubstantiation!) which I can only tell you to disregard. I think that reviewer either had a chip on his shoulder against the liturgical tradition, or didn’t read the book very carefully.
On the whole, I would still recommend this book quite happily. It won’t give you an Anglican education, but its principles are sound and its commentary is insightful. In fact, the fact that this is a pentecostal author arguing for historic liturgy makes his exhortation all the more earnest and significant. This is no patronizing Anglo-Catholic telling the evangelical world how to fix their problems, as we often imagine liturgical theologians to be!
The ratings in short:
Although this book was an assigned text for one of my seminary courses, it is not a dense scholarly read. It is intended, I think, for pastors, worship leaders, and interested laymen who do not necessarily have any higher education. It’s clearly organized, logically written, and peppered with citations for further reference. (Except they’re endnotes, yuck!)
Devotional Usefulness: N/A
This is a book to read, not pray.
Reference Value: 3/5
If you’ve never read a book about liturgy and liturgical worship before, this is probably the best place to start. It’s informative, covers a lot of ground, and gets you connected with plenty of biblical and Early Church quotations. It won’t really improve your knowledge and understanding of the Prayer Book tradition, or English spirituality, but you can save that for another book. From analyzing the Creed to outlining the three-year catechumenate, this is a great place to begin your foray into liturgical studies.
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